STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — A powerful one-two punch of former top prep prospects from Connecticut could give Penn State a big boost this fall.
Tailback Silas Redd and linebacker Khairi Fortt both headed west from New England last year to sign on with coach Joe Paterno. Both players contributed as freshmen in 2010, especially Redd, the backup to school career-rushing leader Evan Royster.
After a spring practice with more snaps, Redd and Fortt appear poised to take on more responsibilities when the Nittany Lions reconvene for preseason camp in August, ready to fulfill the promise assigned to Connecticut’s top two recruits in 2009.
Redd admitted to feeling pressure to replace Royster, a three-year starter.
“A little bit, a little bit,” Redd said after Saturday’s Blue-White game. “But naturally I’m ready to take it on and it’s something I accept.”
There should be a healthy dose of younger players in spotlight positions assuming a heavier load in Happy Valley. Fortt and rising junior Gerald Hodges could be the new linebackers on the outside, flanking redshirt junior Michael Mauti in the middle to give
JoePa an athletic trio on the defense’s marquee unit.
Jordan Hill looks like he’ll take over at defensive tackle after backing up Ollie Ogbu last year as a sophomore and getting shuttled down a spot down at times to help at injury-depleted defensive end.
Most Penn State fans know about Rob Bolden and his time-share at quarterback as a freshman last year with Matt McGloin. The quarterback job remained open at the end of spring practice, and Bolden is still weighing a transfer.
There’s another important job open in the offensive backfield that’s not drawing quite as much as attention.
At tailback, Stephfon Green is the veteran but injury-prone speedster. Brandon Beachum is the power back coming back from a knee injury. Curtis Dukes is another big runner at 6-foot-1 and 246 pounds trying to make an impression for more playing time in his sophomore year.
But no one has flashed as much potential as Redd. He’s got a spin move that can make linebackers dizzy, and coaches like his vision and footwork, too.
Redd ran for 24 yards on nine carries in the rain-shortened Blue-White game, and had 437 yards and two touchdowns on 77 carries in 2010.
“I work best in space, I think everybody knows that from (last) season. If we get me out in space, I can make the rest happen,” Redd said.
Just 19, Redd already has a keen appreciation for tailback royalty. He watched Walter Payton videos growing up and studied up on film of Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson to try an incorporate their strengths into his game.
But under old-school Paterno, Penn State tailbacks must learn to block — and block well, too — to see the field.
“As far as just running with the football, two or three of those kids are pretty good,” Paterno said. “But right now that’s one of the things that I’ve got to (address) when I talk to them on Monday, some of these guys have got to do a little homework and start studying exactly what they may have to do in the way of blocking.”
Redd, of Norwalk, Conn., was listed by Rivals.com as Connecticut’s top prep prospect in 2009, one spot ahead of Fortt, who attended high school in Stamford. They became friends while attending summer football camp at Penn State.
Fortt had 17 tackles last season, 11 coming in the 33-13 loss to Illinois after injuries to Mauti and Hodges forced him into the lineup. Fortt and Hodges received more snaps this spring with rising senior Nathan Stupar, another potential starter, limited by a hamstring injury.
“I’ve always received words of inspiration on the Penn State story and what “Linebacker U” means to this program,” Fortt said. “It’s not just an ordinary linebacker crew, it’s Penn State’s linebacker crew. You’ve got to be serious, aggressive, relentless and focused.”
Fortt’s potential can be judged by his jersey number, 11. In the past dozen years, linebacking standouts LaVar Arrington and Navorro Bowman have worn the number.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)